Many say Congress should continue funding ed-tech through its own dedicated funding stream.

Many say Congress should continue funding ed-tech through its own dedicated funding stream.

Alarmed at what they see as a potential setback in federal support for education technology, several dozen state and national education groups and high-tech companies have sent letters to House and Senate lawmakers, urging them to continue funding the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program in fiscal 2011.

The letters expressed concerns about President Obama’s budget proposal, which would fold EETT—the largest single source of federal funding for school technology equipment, support, and professional development—into a new competitive grant program that aims to promote effective teaching and learning.

According to federal officials, this new initiative would “include a focus on integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning” throughout all subject areas. (Read “Nation’s ed-tech chief reacts to budget concerns”)

But ed-tech advocates say that’s not enough—and Congress should continue funding education technology through its own dedicated funding stream, they say. (Read “FY11 budget plan folds ed tech into new program”)

“We know that providing all children with a high-quality education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy predicated on knowledge and innovation is both a moral imperative and critical to America’s economic future,” the letters stated. “Educational technologies are mission critical to this purpose. Congress included EETT as a core provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act … to ensure a sustained, systematic, and coordinated investment in educational technology leadership needed to drive education innovation and continuous improvement.”

Nearly 70 companies and organizations signed onto the latest letter, which was sent April 30 to members of the House appropriations subcommittee that deals with education. The letter urged lawmakers to preserve EETT with a funding level of at least $500 million in FY11. The program received only $100 million in FY10, but it did get another $650 million in stimulus funding during the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years.

In a separate letter to Senate appropriations committee members, 21 U.S. senators also urged their colleagues to preserve EETT at a funding level of at least $500 million.

“Because state and local education budgets are especially strained in the current economic climate, eliminating EETT would dramatically reduce the availability of education technology in many American public schools,” the senators’ letter said.

Administration officials say the proposed budget wouldn’t do away with ed-tech funding altogether. Instead, they say, technology would become a critical component of all federally funded education programs under Obama’s approach, instead of a separate line item.

“We’re not eliminating EETT, and we want to make that clear,” said Karen Cator, director of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “We’re just consolidating it, and a lot of other different programs, in order to provide for broader and more flexible programs that incorporate technology into learning, not isolate it.”

Ed-tech advocates say this approach has several flaws.

EETT funds are distributed to states in the form of block grants. States keep a small portion of these funds for state leadership efforts and distribute the bulk of the money to local districts, half competitively and half by formula.

Folding EETT into a competitive grant program that supports effective teaching and learning doesn’t guarantee that school districts will receive, or use, the money to bolster their ed-tech initiatives, critics argue. They fear many districts that have relied on formula-based grants for school technology will be left behind under the new approach.

Also, although administration officials insist that technology will be an important part of the new grant initiative, what will happen if the leadership in Washington changes, critics say? Will there still be a commitment to education technology as a critical component of school reform?

Like EETT, the new Effective Teaching and Learning program that Obama has proposed will set aside money for state and national leadership efforts that focus on education technology, Cator said. She added that ED will continue to support the use of technology to transform teaching and learning through its Investing in Innovation (I3) grant program as well.